Identity Formation/Individuation

Adolescence is a time of life characterized by extreme change and development in just about every way.  Mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially, we learn and form much of who we are, during the teenage years.  Teen Identity Development is the process of teens creating who they are and as a result, how they interface with the world around them.  There are many different factors that go into Teen Identity Development, including some which teens can control (such as pursuing interests and values) and some which they cannot (such as environment and judgments from peers.)  While this process can be challenging for all teens in different ways, it can be particularly difficult for teens that are struggling with symptoms related to mental health and/or substance abuse disorders.  Therefore, we incorporate numerous strategies in our teen treatment plans here at Paradigm San Francisco which serves to help guide and support teens, as they discover and form their identities.

Identity Development includes many different aspects but can be broadly divided into self-identity and social identity.  Self-identity is the part of teens’ identities which is formed by how teens view and think about themselves, with relation to their experiences and the world.  This is one aspect of identity which we make sure to address in treatment, as we understand that often, struggles of mental health and substance abuse can greatly affect and even warp how teens view and feel about themselves.  To this end, our therapists constantly look for opportunities to help teens examine how they see themselves falsely or judgmentally and then over time, work to adjust those habits and beliefs, in order to help strengthen teens’ identities.

Another aspect of identity is social identity, which is the part of teens’ identity that is more shaped by others’ views of them, as well as environmental and relational factors.  One difficult aspect of social identity is that it is very often out of teens’ control, for better or worse.  Therefore, in situations where teens might be bullied or discriminated against, these messages and judgments can be very harmful to the identity development process; however, in other scenarios, such as our peer group therapy sessions, the support and understanding teens offer each other can be incredibly beneficial and strengthening to teens’ development of identity.

Though the development of identity is very dynamic and complicated, as well as different for each individual, it’s considered to be one of the basic adolescent stages of psycho-social development.  The premise of this stage is that for all teens, there’s thought to be a combination of positive and negative effects that either help or harm teens throughout this process.  In instances where teens can resolve these challenges, they will be more secure and calm in who they are and how they relate to the world.  In other instances, where teens aren’t able to reconcile this process of forming their identities, they’ll feel confused and experience struggles related to a weakened sense of self.  At Paradigm San Francisco, we help teens to connect the work they are doing in sessions to the greater formation of identity which they’re undertaking, and in this sense, support them in creating a strong, clear sense of identity.
The specific ways in which we support Teen Identity Development in our treatment here at Paradigm San Francisco really varies, according to the individual teen.  However, one of the great benefits of designing treatment in the holistic, interdisciplinary way that we do is that all of our therapists and treatment team members are working to support the greater goal of teens’ ultimate physical, mental, emotional, and relational well-being, at all times.  And beyond this, we are committed not only to helping teens gain relief from symptoms but to make lasting changes and begin lifelong practices that will affect who they are and how they see themselves, on the deepest levels possible.